Spatial data infrastructure (SDI) exists today as a useful framework for sharing spatial data. However, there is still a long way to go before SDI can fill the role as location enabler for a fully-fledged open data infrastructure serving data-driven innovation. Focus on governance, business value and scalability are key elements to be addressed to facilitate such development. Digital transformation supported by digital platforms are key enablers that can drive development towards filling this role.
According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ‘data-driven innovation forms a key pillar in 21st century sources of growth. The confluence of several trends, including the increasing migration of socio-economic activities to the Internet and the decline in the cost of data collection, storage and processing, are leading to the generation and use of huge volumes of data – commonly referred to as “big data”. These large data sets are becoming a core asset in the economy, fostering new industries, processes and products and creating significant competitive advantages.’ 
Establishing the right framework for the data economy is crucial for releasing the potential for data-driven innovation in data-intensive industries. Government on national as well as supranational level must play a leading role in this.
In EU building a European data economy is part of the Digital Single Market strategy. In this initiative the Commission intends to unlock the re-use potential of different types of data and its free flow across borders to achieve a European digital single market. In support of this the Commission proposes a package of measures as a key step ‘towards a common data space in the EU – a seamless digital area with the scale that will enable the development of new products and services based on data’. In the communication about the package it is stated that the Commission will continue to support the deployment of a fully-fledged open data infrastructure. 
SDI as location enabler – and current challenges
Spatial data infrastructure (SDI) is an element in the open data infrastructure. The goal for SDI is to achieve interoperability between all spatial data, for which there is an interest in data sharing, and to make SDI the location enabler in the data infrastructure. This goal supports a common data space, and the quest for a common data space in the EU will be an additional driver for developing SDI.
National SDIs have been under development for some years, and good progress is made, especially regarding sharing of basic data, i.e. data describing essential objects that is used in common across multiple domains (e.g. land parcels). However, unlocking the re-use potential and the free flow of the vast amount of data that exists in different domains is still far from being achieved. Doing this within an acceptable timeframe and with an acceptable economy will take an innovative approach involving focus on governance, business value and the ability to scale.
Main challenges encountered when developing national SDI today are:
- Demand for sharing of data come uncoordinated from consumers of data (organisations and individuals). This makes it difficult to establish a consolidated view of requirements, straining the resources of those coordinating the development of national SDI – and it makes it difficult to establish solid business cases for extensions and assign accountability for realising the benefits.
- Dataset authorities typically produce data to solve specific tasks within their core business. Sharing data with other organisations is typically not part of their core business, making it difficult for them to prioritize resources to do that.
Government business value is created around real-world topics that need to be addressed (such as road transportation management, water resource management, healthcare management, etc.). Doing this typically involves many organisations, each having their own reason for being. The environment around said value creation – hereafter referred to as a government business domain – is typically not set up to govern cross-organisational issues about elements like a common (spatial) data infrastructure.
Digital transformation, digital platforms and SDI
An underlaying problem in the traditional environment is a general absence of a holistic view at government business domains that also includes the data and technology framework enabling the business. Digital transformation supported by digital platforms is a trend that deals with this issue.
Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, resulting in fundamental changes to how businesses operate and how they deliver value to customers. The trend applies equally to private and public business.
A digital platform is a technology enabled business that offers new ways for organisations to collaborate in an ecosystem for value creation. Value creation is not restricted to monetary value but can also be the value of a public service. Digital platforms support digital transformation.
Digital platforms are expected to become the dominant business model for business based on digital transactions. Each digital platform has an ecosystem consisting of an owner, who controls business model, rules and architecture for the platform, plus participants, who perform value creating interactions.
Digital platforms define a new paradigm for how to model business ecosystems and have characteristics that can be exploited to develop more expedient types of cooperation. This includes some important merits that can be applied to spatial data infrastructure.
It makes good sense to develop government business domains around digital platforms, each with its own digital platform in the centre. The digital platform owner builds an ecosystem by bringing the relevant stakeholders together and acts as intermediary, setting up the business model, rules for the value creating interactions, and architecture for the supporting digital technology platform. The platform owner’s task is to orchestrate transactions being exchanged via the platform and make sure that the platform is attractive for the entire ecosystem around the platform.
The digital government business domain platform is where requirements for shared data resources will emerge and the platform owner is responsible for collecting and acting on such requirements. In support of data-driven innovation, shared data resources should be made available, not only to the stakeholders in the platform ecosystem identifying the need, but as a shared resource in a fully-fledged open data infrastructure, allowing others to benefit from the data. For spatial data this should be achieved via the national SDI, i.e. by adhering to the business model, rules and architecture for the SDI.
In this development the national SDI itself is developing into an ecosystem thriving around a digital platform handling the business of sharing spatial data, and with dataset authorities, application suppliers and end-users as the groups of users exchanging value via the platform. The SDI platform owner is handling business model, rules and architecture for the platform, and is working closely with the users of the platform, and with the owners of the digital government business domain platforms that it serves, to develop the SDI. 
SDI funding considerations
In the traditional business environment, funding has turned out to be one of the most difficult issues to handle, when building an open spatial data infrastructure. Digital platforms offer a framework that lends itself well to address this issue from a more comprehensive business perspective.
The digital platform is where business considerations come together for the ecosystem that the platform serves. Driving the demand for the core interactions of the digital platform sometimes means that resources in the digital platform must be subsidized (or free).
In the case of data sharing the benefit lies with the end-users and application suppliers using the data, whereas the cost of data lies with the dataset authorities. Anchoring the business case for a specific business makes the digital platform the obvious place to handle funding and licensing issues.
The guiding principle should be that the cost of data sharing must be recovered from the business that benefits the most from data sharing – and that the data shared must become part of an open data infrastructure.
The funding model for the digital SDI platform could for instance be based on the following guidelines:
- SDI basic data is data describing essential objects that is used in common across multiple domains. This data is best handled as a separate topic with a separate business case. The demand for the data is high and exists across all business domains. The need for an open spatial data infrastructure with this data seems to be increasingly accepted, and with separate funding available in many nations. The digital platform owner for the national SDI should take ownership of the business case and funding for basic data.
- For data sharing founded in a government business domain that represents the primary interest in the data sharing, funding should be provided from the corresponding digital government business domain platform. For non-basic data, where funding cannot be justified by the need in one government business domain, the platform owners for the digital government business domain platforms in need, should figure out how to share the funding.
Digital platforms driving SDI development
A business environment based on collaborating digital platforms as described above could provide the driver for developing a fully-fledged SDI in support of data-driven innovation within an acceptable timeframe and with an acceptable economy.
The development happens around a digital SDI platform, where:
- business model, rules and architecture are clearly anchored at a digital SDI platform owner,
- funding is tied to business value within the relevant digital platforms, and
- scalability is addressed by involving government business domains, orchestrated by their platform owners.
The concept of digital platforms is still in the phase of evolving as the dominant business model for government business based on digital transactions. This makes it a good time to clarify the digital SDI platform business model and how it interacts with the digital platforms that contribute to developing the SDI, and to communicate how SDI influences the digital government business domain platforms as they evolve.